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Reclaiming the Local Food System

Open a community owned grocery store that promotes biodiversity, is carbon neutral and delivers healthy and nutritious food to people.

Photo of Rusty Foszcz
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

McHenry County Food Cooperative d/b/a Food Shed Co-op

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

McHenry County College, Crystal Lake, IL

Website of Legally Registered Entity

http://www.foodshed.coop

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Woodstock, IL

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

McHenry County, IL covers 611 square miles.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

McHenry County needs a local food cooperative grocery store that provides local, healthy, delicious food choices produced in a sustainable manner. Through collaboration with small, local farmers and the support of the community (including strong support from the local community college), the Food Shed Co-op intends to build a community owned grocery store that provides these healthy, natural food choices at the same time it benefits the local economy by circulating dollars within the county rather than sending proceeds out of state to big chain grocers.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

McHenry County is primarily an agricultural community. Although the primary crops are currently row-crops (i.e., corn and beans), there is an intense, growing effort to farm more sustainably. This effort is promoted by younger, more health conscious individuals who believe in growing produce and meats without the introduction of pesticides, antibiotics, and GMO seeds. They are spearheading this effort because of the increased interest in healthy, natural, organic food choices by the public at large. This is evident in the fact that large grocery chains have entered the "local" food movement albeit exaggerating the definition of local foods. While the Food Shed Co-op looks at locally grown food as being that produced within our county (and perhaps within a 75 - 100 mile radius of the county), these big chains consider "local" as far away as 400 - 500 miles. The resources expended in getting products to market impact the sustainability of these products. By minimizing the amount of fuel and other resources used to bring local foods to market we succeed in creating a much more sustainable environment for our community.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

1580

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

310000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In 2020...

Big agriculture tends to place production over all other. Pumping antibiotics into our farm animals brings maximum market weight. Spreading pesticides and herbicides consistently on crop land increases production. However these practices are at the expense of our environment. By refusing to use sustainable farming methods, yields are maximized - however our soil is degraded.

Society sees increased cancer rates and reduced lifespans because of these practices. Economically, big agriculture has strangled small, urban farmers by pricing them out of the market with profits leaving our county and benefiting corporate conglomerates.

In 2050...

Small, local farmers understand the need to care for the land. Crop rotation replenishes the soil with natural means rather than chemical additives. Free-range livestock allows animals to live their lives in a healthy environment that ultimately results in healthier food choices for consumers. Small, local farmers care for the environment and nurture rather than deplete.

Economically local food production for community owned cooperative grocery stores benefits the community at large. Co-ops giving local farmers an outlet for their produce, allowing them to produce and sell at living wages. Dollars spent purchasing produce, bulk goods, and other local products STAY in the community.

Communities long for local, healthy food choices. People are willing to spend 10 - 25% more on healthy, natural, local food choices. The change in cultural values from 2020 shows that the local food movement is a  cultural shift toward a more healthy and sustainable environment.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The Food Shed Co-op will address these challenges by the following:

  • Providing small, local farmers and producers a sustained markets for healthy, locally produced food products.
  • Driving demand and facilitating pricing will allow farmers to practice sustainable farming and earn a living wage.
  • Introducing and connecting the community directly to local farmers and producers by highlighting their foods on our shelves.
  • Collaborating with local college students involved in the Urban Agriculture program; teaching them about the value of local food systems. 
  • Providing direct access to local food and increasing education and awareness of the benefits of local food producing farms and ranch operations.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We see four distinct areas of future benefits: health, social, environmental, and economic.

Health

The Co-op increases access to healthy, affordable fruits, vegetables, bulk products, etc. The learning kitchen located in the store promotes opportunities that encourage a healthy diet – thereby reducing medical expenses resulting from healthy diets. The community bonds created between patrons, store personnel, and local producers increases people’s self-esteem and creates a sense of individual purpose.

Societal

The cooperative model focuses on “community”. The social benefits for those gathering at the store increases goodwill and promotes communal spirit. The grocery store is a focal point in people’s lives – a place to meet up, gather, and build new friendships. The internal ambiance of the store invites people to shop and makes the experience enjoyable.

Environment

The Co-ops bulk section reduces waste products in the county due to less commercial packaging. Increases in locally produced food goods reduces carbon footprints that were created when items are trucked in from miles away.

Economics

Small, local farmers are proud to be investing in their community by supplying food for the shelves of the Co-op. Farmers can now predict how much of their produce will be sold through ethical contractual agreements between farmers and the Co-op. Money paid to farmers recirculates within the county rather than making its way to the corporate headquarters of big chain groceries. Farmers benefit because the Co-op pays a fair price for their products. The community benefits because the Co-op provides new work skills and experience.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

"Think globally, act locally"

While this statement has been (appropriately) adopted by the environmental community – at its core it applies to many of society’s current problems. Moreover, while the issue of a Food System Vision certainly appears global in nature, the solution to a number of the problems may lie somewhere in the cooperative model.

The Cooperative model is based on seven (7) principles:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training, and Information
  • Cooperation among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community


The cooperative model embodies and pushes local food production. Because the model is centered around the idea of community, autonomy, and democratic member control, the concept of local is embedded in its principles.

American novelist and environmentalist Wendell Berry states, “Anybody interested in solving, rather than profiting from, the problems of food production and distribution will see that in the long run the safest food supply is a local food supply, not a supply that is dependent on a global economy.” In order to solve access to healthy food, the answer appears to lie in what can be produced and distributed locally rather than attempting to solve the problem of food deserts globally.

But why locally? All effort put in at the local level strengthens and unites the community. The trend to eat “organic” has grown substantially the past few years as people realize the health benefits of eating locally sourced produce and meats. This is evident in the exponential growth of big-chain grocery markets touting “local” and “organic” foods. The problem with big-box grocery chains however lies primarily in the supply chain – and in most instances, the definition of “locally grown” foods.

In his book Grocery Stores, Jon Steinman points out that the definition of “local” in the Canadian province of British Columbia involves produce and many other products that are an eight (8) hour drive from the big chain grocery stores that are advertising local food! Additionally, all profits from these foods do not enter the local economy, but rather are sent right back to the corporate entities that own the grocery store. In 2017, multi-billion dollar Amazon purchased Whole Foods. Amazon still advertises that Whole Foods stocks its shelves with local foods although the definition of local foods is dependent on each store’s unique definition. And while we tend to think that local foods are generally grown on small, independent farms using non-GMO seed and pesticide-free environments, this is not necessarily the case when one is purchasing food from big chain grocery stores like Whole Foods, Walmart, or others.

The Food Shed Co-op in McHenry County, Illinois is attempting to redefine that definition of local and bring it back to reality. The mission of the Co-op is to build a local food cooperative promoting a healthy, ethical, and resilient community. Within that mission, the Food Shed believes that the answer to a healthier lifestyle lies not only in your choice of food, but also in the opportunity to gather and interact with neighbors and friends in your community. According to Berry, “nations and regions within nations must be left free and should be encouraged to develop the local food economies that best suit local needs and local conditions.”

The Cooperative plans to focus on supporting small local farmers here in McHenry County. While sourcing local food the Co-op plans on providing educational opportunities for healthy food choices and in conjunction with the local community college, integrate with the college’s agriculture and culinary programs. Plans are to ensure selling at least 25% local food products with the goal of $1,000,000 in local food revenue within 3 years. Assistance for low-income clientele and SNAP recipients will be at the forefront since a healthy diet and delicious food minimizes other cultural problems that low-income individuals and families suffer from. It is the goal of the Co-op to bring local producers and the local community together so that we educate the public on where their food is coming from and how the dollars that they spend are helping the local economy rather than lining the pockets of corporate giants such as Amazon and Walmart.

At the heart of the local food movement is community. Consumers in McHenry County WANT to support local food with their daily shopping. As mentioned previously, the lack of transparency on the origin of “local foods” by big chains is a problem that the Co-op wishes to address. The Co-op intends to provide the outlet to build and grow market connections to local producers. The relationships and collaborations with local producers are at the heart of the cooperative principles.

Included in our list of collaborators lies a distinctive partner – McHenry County College. This distinct opportunity will allow the Co-op to increase community awareness and promote the importance of community relationships. In this unique relationship we intend to promote and strengthen the connection we have to the community. Not only will the Co-op work to promote local suppliers and farmers, we have the unique opportunity to draw from the resources of our local community college and benefit from what they do well.

In that vein, the Co-op has collaborated with McHenry County College (MCC) to cross train students participating in the Entrepreneurial Agriculture program that has just been recently announced. In conjunction with the college, the Co-op will:

  • work with other local organizations to help match land opportunities with young farmers looking toward a career in sustainable farming;
  • utilize Culinary Arts program students in its teaching kitchen and classroom facilities – featuring their products on our shelves;
  • work with other local farmers and suppliers to act as mentors to young farmers engaged and participating in the sustainable farming initiative;
  • provide an opportunity for marketing students at the college to participate in and learn about the cooperative business model;
  • promote locally grown specialty crops grown in the college greenhouses and provide an outlet and a demand for those specialty crops; and
  • provide an outlet for those crops that are produced in the high-tunnel project at the college which promotes an increased growing season.


The relationship with MCC enhances the benefits that the local food movement brings to the Co-op. Along with a long list of suppliers already obtained, the Co-op will work diligently to improve the food system here on a local level by keeping dollars working in the community. The Co-op will use local dollars to purchase local products which ultimately recirculate in the community rather than lining the pockets of big chain groceries and big AG companies.

The Co-ops’ organizational structure will enable us to work closely with local growers and producers to establish sustainable business relationships. These sustainable business relationships are crucial to the local food movement and contrary to the beliefs of the big chain groceries which tend to push legislation that adversely affects local producers. American author and farmer Joel Salatin states, “From zoning to labor to food safety to insurance, local food systems daily face a phalanx of regulatory hurdles designed and implemented to police industrial food models but which prejudicially wipe out the antidote: appropriate scaled local food systems.” It is time to push sustainable, local farm practices. It’s time to increase the opportunity for young, local farmers who wish to provide healthy, delicious food choices within their communities. The interest in local food choices has quadrupled over the past 10 years according to reports by the USDA. The Food Shed Co-op knows it’s time to capitalize on the local food movement and provide this opportunity to the community.

The increased interest in local foods indicates a need for encourage the vision of promoting local produce and products. Once we solve this problem at a local level – only then can we take the idea of a Food System Vision to the global level.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

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Photo of Alana Libow
Team

Hi Rusty Foszcz - Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize!

Great to see such a vision taking root. A few suggestions for you to take on before the Jan 31st deadline:
i. Understand the subtle yet key differences between a "solution" and a "vision" - Ensure that your full vision is within "vision" form rather than "solution" form.

ii. Understand and showcase "FutureCasting" (from our Toolkit: http://bit.ly/2X4ZxQk): How might you take the reader with you to 2050 for your Full Vision? eg If a reporter joined you in McHenry County in 2050, what transformative changes would the reporter see, feel, experience because of your vision? Take us with you to that transformation.

iii. You may benefit from building an ideas exchange with and/or explore how you may develop a synergistic relationship with another visionary team located in IL and also developing a co-op: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/returning-real-food-production-to-farmers-in-food-deserts

We look forward to seeing your updates by Jan 31st!

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